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Female Patriots

Mary Wollstonecraft's letter to Catharine Macaulay, 1790
Mary Wollstonecraft's
letter to Catharine
Macaulay, 1790
NYPL, Pforzheimer

Helen Maria Williams
Helen Maria
NYPL, Pforzheimer
More than any other event in this period, the French Revolution changed lives. Its early political reforms—the abolition of the monarchy, the expansion of civil liberties, the limitation of Church power—improved life for millions of French citizens (no longer subjects), and encouraged hopes across Europe that life might be more equitably arranged. Many Britons reacted with joy to the first news of the Revolution, but this early, hopeful phase did not last long. In particular, the guillotines’ hackwork during the Terror of 1793 changed the minds of many former supporters of the Revolution. Britain’s wars with France began in 1793 and continued until Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815.

Breaking Up of the Blue Stocking Club
Breaking Up of the
Blue Stocking Club

NYPL, Pforzheimer

Revolutions arouse strong emotions, and this section features women who participated in the heated discussions that took place all over Britain after 1789. In pamphlets, novels, poetry, and images, people asked questions: Should women have the same rights as men? Did people have rights or duties, and were they citizens or subjects? Of what use was the nobility, anyway? Was human nature mutable? Would all this lead to mob rule? If all men were created equal, how could the slave trade be justified? Answers to these questions and others ensured that printers were kept busy, despite some episodes of governmental censorship. Although women, even the most conservative, were not welcome in the discussion, enter it they did, and some of the struggles of these years may be followed here.


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